Abstract

Gary Rosenshield has argued that the miscarriage of justice Dostoevsky depicts in the final book of The Brothers Karamazov, where an innocent man is wrongly convicted in a court of law for a crime he did not commit, may be read as the novelists attempt to dramatize in a work of fiction the strong misgivings about the legal reforms of 1864 that he had expressed in his Diary of a Writer during the mid-1870s. More specifically, Rosenshield argues that the Karamazov trial constitutes Dostoevsky’s novelistic reworking of his own journalistic commentary on two particular jury trials, those of Stanislav Kronenberg and Ekaterina Kornilova, both of which illustrated how Western law was, to Dostoevsky’s mind, standing in the way of Russian justice. My article extends this hypothesis by arguing that the Karamazov trial may also be read as a novelistic reworking of yet another legal case on which Dostoevsky had earlier provided journalistic commentary: the case of Nastasya Kairova, a jealous young actress who was acquitted of premeditated attempted murder in the violent stabbing attack upon her lover’s wife. At her trial, Kairova’s attorney claimed that the defendant was not morally responsible for her actions. He blamed the crime instead on her environment and on the fit of passion [аффект] she suffered at the time, which rendered her temporarily insane. My article argues that the guilty verdict in the Karamazov trial may be read as Dostoevsky’s attempt in a work of fiction to reverse the egregious miscarriage of justice that had been perpetrated in the Kairova case and to send a very different message to his contemporaries about crimes of passion, moral culpability, and compassionate acquittals.

Publication Date

2018

Document Type

Article

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